Can spirituality be a remedy for depression? Does depression distance us from God? Is depression a lack of faith? Are we nearer to God in happiness than when depressed? I wonder how many of us have struggled with these questions.

Depression is complex and is often the result of an interplay of factors. To understand depression comprehensively, we would have to take into account the individual's biochemistry, psychodynamics, circumstances, habitual thinking, and worldview. If someone has a biochemical predisposition for depression, has recently suffered a disappointment or loss, and, in addition, has little faith that we live in a compassionate and meaningful universe, the conditions for depression are in place. Change one of these factors, however, and the others may be affected as well.

In true depression, we temporarily lose the savor of life; we lack the will and energy to meet the day. The dark cloud of depression can nevertheless be mitigated or at least made bearable by the remedy of spiritual awareness and faith. Instead of being the dark cloud that overhangs one's whole life, depression can lead us through a process in which we reach beyond the clouds to the open sky of divine presence.

To effect a spiritual change is to gain a leverage at a very high level. Spiritual health can change the whole context in which we experience depression, and that, of course, changes everything. Depression can be a descent into ourselves that leads to a more mature faith in the divine beneficence.

Some verses of the Qur'an that directly address the state of depression are from Surah 94: Inshirah ("Expansion"). Here God speaks with a royal "We," which some of the mystics suggest is the voice of the totality of divine attributes:

In the name of God, Infinitely Compassionate and Merciful.
Have We not expanded your heart
And removed its heaviness
which had weighed you down?
Have We not increased your remembrance?
Surely, with every difficulty comes ease.
With every difficulty comes ease.

All of our human experience involves this play of polarities that serve the divine purpose. According to the Prophet Muhammad, blessings upon him, "When Allah decreed the Creation He pledged Himself by writing in His book which is laid down with Him: My mercy prevails over my wrath." And so, whatever sorrow or constriction we experience in life is secondary and subservient to the beneficent Mercy which is the greater portion of life.

The Sufis suggest that we have a remarkable capacity within the human heart. This capacity, mentioned often in the Qur'an, is called "remembrance." Some Sufis propose that this special capacity is given to the heart, which expands and contracts, not to the intellect, which functions in a more steady, even fashion. Remembrance (zikr) could be described, then, as mindfulness of the divine presence, in happiness as much as in sorrow, in expansion as well as in contraction.

Spirituality, then, is not the attainment of a blissful state, but a sustaining of the divine connection through all states.

We are healthier when we accept and even embrace the states and experiences that are given to us, rather than resist, repress, or deny them. If we focus on the experience itself with sustained, non-judgmental attention, we will almost always find it transformed: the emotion we thought so painful, when closely examined, will be transformed by the alchemy of acceptance. This is a portion of the meaning of "Islam," which literally means the peace engendered by submission to God.

The corollary is that what we avoid, resist, deny, or refuse to feel may stalk us. it may return in new and more persistent forms until we grant it the recognition it seeks.

There is a basic article of faith here: namely, that all our experience is given to us for a reason. Rumi, the Shakespeare of mystics, wrote:

Whatever enters your heart is a guest
From the invisible world. Be hospitable. ...
If a sorrowful thought stands in the way,
It may be preparing the way for joy. ...
Whenever sorrow comes, greet it with smiles and laughter,
Saying, "O my Creator, save me from its harm,
And do not deprive me of its good."

The sorrow may even serve the Mercy because it reorients us toward the divine. Abu Bakr reported that the Prophet said, "A supplication for distress is, `O Allah, I hope for Your sustaining Mercy, so give me not over to my self even for as little as a wink of an eye, and set right all my affairs. There is no god but You'" (Abu Daw'ud).

Once again Rumi, in his bountiful patience and hope tells us:

And if the pearl is not in sorrow's hand,
Let it go and be pleased.
Increase your sweet practice.
The reward of patience will come.
One day your need will be suddenly fulfilled.

To suffer in a meaningless universe is a great tragedy. To suffer and struggle in a universe in which the development and maturing of the soul is the purpose of life is an entirely different experience. Spirituality can be viewed as the attainment of the widest possible perspective, so that even our depression can be glimpsed from a divine perspective, thus giving us the courage to endure until the day when we find the pearl in our hand.

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